By Kathy Megan

HARTFORD — The state Board of Education unanimously endorsed a recommended change in the teacher evaluation system that ensures that a teacher’s review does not hinge on a single state standardized test score, but not without reluctance from one board member.

“I have to tell you, I’m very conflicted,” board member Joseph Vrabely said before Wednesday’s vote, voicing concerns that the change might be a step back on education reform. “We still have student performance that is below standard.”

When the new evaluation system was approved two years ago, one of its key elements was linking teachers’ performance to their students’ scores on the state’s standardized test. The average of the scores of a teacher’s students was to account for 22.5 percent of the teacher’s evaluation, in grades where the test is given.

Now, on the recommendation of the panel that created the new evaluation system, the board has modified the evaluation system so that at least one other test will be factored into that 22.5 percent. The panel emphasized that more tests should be included so that students’ academic growth over time is considered.

During meetings of the state Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, teachers, union leaders and others said it was not fair or good practice to link nearly a quarter of a teacher’s evaluation to students’ scores on one test.

For this year and next, the state’s standardized test is not part of teachers’ evaluations. The state is in the midst of a transition from the long-standing Connecticut Mastery Test to a new computerized exam prepared by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. This year, the test is being tested, and the state was granted permission not to link scores to teachers’ evaluations. The state has applied for the same federal waiver for next year.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor emphasized that “the state test is not being discarded. Its use is being affirmed in the context of an assessment system that includes interim assessments.”

Before the board’s vote, Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, told the board that he supports the idea behind the change. Adding more assessments over time as a component of the evaluation is “good science.”

“However, we are concerned that if we’re not successful in that move, that we open the door to a delay in the accountability of our teachers,” Villar said. Connecting student performance to teacher performance is “a very critical component for the teacher evaluation system.”

In other action, the state board approved applications from five schools to become part of the state’s “Commissioner’s Network” — the initiative to turn around some of the state’s most chronically low-performing schools.

John C. Clark School in Hartford, Lincoln-Bassett School in New Haven, Robert J. O’Brien STEM Academy in East Hartford, Luis Munoz Marin School in Bridgeport and Uncas Elementary School in Norwich will join the network.

They were the third group of schools approved for the network, bringing the total to 16 schools that serve nearly 10,000 students. Connecticut is investing more than $15 million in the effort to improve network schools this year. It is too soon to know how much will be invested in the newly selected schools, a state official said.

Network schools qualify for grants and other funding as well as flexibility in a number of areas as changes are made to improve a school’s performance.

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